Like no otter mammal

Asian small-clawed otters may look sweet but according to our keepers, they’re also clever and fierce – they are carnivores after all. Why are they such good swimmers then? Asian small-clawed otters are well built for swimming; they also have a double layer coat – the outer fur is thick, coarse, and waterproof and the inner fur is a finer, soft layer to insulate against the cold. Read on for otter fascinating facts! 

Eat, sleep, swim, repeat.

You may see a stream of bubbles floating up while they swim. The air gets trapped between the two layers of fur to increase insulation and help keep them buoyant in the water. Otters also have partially webbed paws, which as well as being great for swimming, also gives them great dexterity for catching food.  

Their stiff whiskers are sensitive to water turbulence and allow them to locate prey in murky water. Once caught with their paws, their strong jaws and sharp teeth make short work of prey such as crustaceans and shellfish.  

What’s that smell?!  

Sometimes you smell so great, you just want to share it with others! Scent-marking is one of the ways otters communicate. Scent glands are located at the base of their tail and the musky smell they emit can communicate all sorts of important information, from the otter’s identity to their sexual interest. Our otter habitat features lots of varied areas where the otters can scent-mark and our team also offer enrichment items to elicit this natural behaviour.

At Auckland  Zoo 

Otterly in love 

Otters are very sociable animals, living in groups of up to 18. You might see them in a little playful rough and tumble. This is a way that our otters create strong bonds with each other.  

Asian small-clawed otters spend a lot more time on land than other otter species. Their habitat is set up with sunny grassy areas for sunbathing, resting and grooming. And plenty of vegetation provides protection and shade. Otters are nest builders, so you may spot an otter carrying some bamboo or straw to make a comfy nesting area for the family.  

Like any hot property, the otters also have a great pool! Carnivore keepers encourage natural feeding behaviours by scatter-feeding shrimp, crabs, fish heads, squid and mussels in the pool. You will see the otters zooming around to find their favourite treats. Keepers also place food inside submerged pipes and other objects to encourage the otters to use their paws to dig out the food. When the otters have found their favourite food, you will often hear them using their 12+ unique vocalisations to tell the others what they have found.  


The Science of Animal Care - The Lowlands (Asian small-clawed otters)

We’re giving you a behind the scenes look at the design of the Zoo’s new Asian small-clawed otter habitat!

In the Wild 

Origin: Indonesia, southern China, southern India, Philippines and Southeast Asia 

Habitat: Freshwater streams, rivers and creeks 

Conservation status: Vulnerable 

Otters are an ecological indicator species. This means they require good water quality and unpolluted natural land habitat to live. So, if there are otters living in a particular area, it’s a pretty good indicator of a healthy ecosystem with healthy waters and plenty of food.   


Meet our playful otters

Our otters may be small, but according to keeper Helen they're not to be messed with!

How you can help 

As a not-for-profit, we rely on our amazing supporters like you to be able to continue our conservation Wild Work for the world’s most vulnerable and at-risk animal species. Help our wildlife in need by making a donation.